Mia had always been one to cry.
When sad, when angry, when happy, Mia was always crying.
That’s why Takeru would often find himself on the road home with Mia’s teary face.
“… How long are you going to keep crying, Mia?”
“… Yeah… hic…”
“Don’t cry just because you got teased. That lot finds it funny, that’s why they do it.”
“I know… but…”
Each time Mia hiccupped, her ribbon-bound braid swayed. Takeru rubbed his nose as he purposefully wrung out his voice.
“Nothing to worry about. They don’t even know how to punch. Just you watch, next time they mess with you, I’ll go and beat…”
“Y-you can’t do that, it’ll hurt!”
All of a sudden, Mia drew close to him. A surprised Takeru retreated two, three steps back.
“If you make them hurt, then you’ll start hurting too! You can’t do that! Absolutely not!”
“I don’t really hurt…”
“Anyways, I say it’s no good, so no!”
When she was such a crybaby, from time to time, Mia could become surprisingly stubborn. At those times, no matter what Takeru said, Mia wouldn’t hear a word of it. In the end, Takeru had no choice but to answer this.
“… Fine, I get it. Just get away, you’re too close.”
“That’s a promise! Lie and I won’t let you eat maman’s galette!”
“And you call yourself human?”
“Take-chan, you’re making a scary face!”
She was in tears again. Finally feeling troubled over how to soothe her, “Oh, that’s right,” a certain thought struck Takeru’s head.
“Mia, go join Teiko FC.”
“You want me to play football?”
“No way, no way no way no way, not happening!”
“It’s fine, you can do it. You’ve got blood from the same country as Zidane in your veins.”
“Not every Frenchman can play football! Add to that it’s diluted by half!”
While Mia refuted it with all her might, this was one point Takeru wouldn’t back down on.
“Sawa-chan’s making a ruckus over how there are no female members. She’ll welcome you.”
“… But I’m already slow in tag… and… playing football with kids I don’t know…”
“I’ll be with you, so you don’t have to worry about that.”
Intentionally speeding up, he called out to Mia.
“If you play football, you’ll make some friends, and you can become strong. So let’s do it, this football thing.”
Mia’s voice suddenly sprung up.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Takeru answered. “I’m sure you’ll get even stronger than Gaimoon.”
“I see… getting strong with Take-chan…”
Eventually, the two arrived at Mia’s house; a single-family home on the older side, where her father apparently lived when he was a kid. The blond haired woman standing by the mail box noticed the two and waved her hand.
“Ah, welcome back Take-chan, Mia.”
“I’m home, maman!”
Mia quickly raced off and embraced the woman. Her mother, a Frenchwoman gave a bright smile as she rubbed Mia’s head.
“I see you’re home today with a smile, Mia. That’s wonderful.”
“Yeah! I promised you!”
“You were bawling your eyes out not a moment ago.”
Embracing Mia who was tearing up again in protest, maman smiled over at Takeru.
“Then I’m sure it’s thanks to you that she’s back on her feet.”
“… I didn’t really do anything…”
Mia strongly took after maman’s features. Given ten, twenty years, would Mia look like that as well? The form of an adult Mia was something Takeru couldn’t even bring himself to imagine.
Takeru loved her kind maman.
Her voice as warm as the spring, the somewhat burnt galettes she would treat him to, her smile like the sun.
“Take-chan, I appreciate you doing this every time. I’m counting on you to look after Mia.”
To maman’s words, Takeru gave a curt nod, when Mia sent him a grin. Why don’t you just smile like that at school, Taaekru would often wonder, but when he thought about how he was the only one who knew Mia’s smile, he felt just a little triumphant.
“Bye-bye Take-chan. See you tomorrow!”
— See you tomorrow.
“Omou-san seriously pisses me off.”
“Eh? What’s this? Suddenly laying down a diss?”
“I mean, listen to this. This morning, I was just playing with a first year a bit, see, when, ‘What do you think you’re doing here?’ she went and picked a fight. What’s up with that? She misunderstood so hard it was the funniest thing ever.”
“You’re bullying that kid too hard. It’ll be a real pain if you poke at Omou, you know? She doesn’t read the mood.”
“Meh, you make me sound like a villainess, I’m just doing it for everyone’s sake. I mean, a kid whose very existence is gross. For the school’s sake and everyone in it, aren’t we all better off if they go truant already? Sacrifice one for everyone’s sake. See, I do no wrong.”
“No, no, you’re totally speaking like a villain—”
Lunch break at the cafeteria.
Listening to the conversations of sporadically laughing female students, Takeru slurped at his udon alone. At those voices that one would hear whether they wanted to or not, there were some who made openly displeased faces, but no one made a public protest.
Stay as uninvolved as possible with the events outside of the community you belong to. This was one of the tacit rules anyone living a student life would quickly acquire.
Once Takeru finished his udon, he stood from his seat.
His eyes flickered. He couldn’t remove the washed-out feeling that had been in his head since yesterday. Leaving the cafeteria, he walked down the passage that connected to the main school building.
Just a night since the bus jacking incident, and Tsukimori First High was continuing in an exceedingly normal daily life mode. As long as crisis didn’t happen in true proximity, it’s difficult to actually feel the danger.
In this school, only two were involved with that case.
Okina Takeru and another.
As he passed down the hall, the vending machine stationed to the side entered his eyes. Recalling a slight thirst, he tried inserting a hundred yen coin into the coin slot, when there came the sensation of something colliding with his head. A paper airplane folded out of a school printout.
He turned in the direction it flew from, The landing of the school’s emergency staircase entered his eyes, but he couldn’t spot anyone. Takeru spread out the paper airplane sheet.
‘I request coffee milk.’
A crude touch unchanging from elementary school. Carefully folding up the spread paper, he tucked it into his breast pocket, gave up on the vending machine, and returned to his original route. A paper airplane stuck into his head again.
This one was a test answer sheet.
‘Have you forgotten your debt from yesterday’s drink?’
A math test, ninety-two points. Come to think of it, she was a science major, he recalled a little late. Carefully folding up the answer sheet, he tucked it into his pants pocket, walking off for yet another time.
Or so he made it look before catching the third airplane flaying at him in midair.
The third was an advertisement leaflet.
‘I’m sorry, I got in over my head. I’ll give you a Fried Sato-chan, so please.’
It was written largely in thick magic marker.
Fried Sato-chan, thinly sliced bread crusts deep fried and sprinkled in sugar, a long selling item at joint-stock company Satou Pan. What other choice did he have? Takeru returned to the vending machine, purchased a coffee milk and black vinegar drink, and made for the emergency stairwell.
He could have just ignored her, but with what happened yesterday, he was better off probing for some information.
Arriving at the third-floor landing, he called out to the lord of the paper airplanes.
“That Aquarius was something you just arbitrarily shoved on me.”
“You must be joking. I said it was goodwill, I never said it was my treat.”
Crouching down and concealing herself, Mia gave a mischievous laugh. The other individual involved with the incident, Gaimoon, Omou Mia. In her hands was an open bag of Fried Sato-chan, and a paperback open half-way. The ‘Flowers for Algernon’ she had borrowed yesterday.
Takeru set down the coffee milk and snatched a Fried Sato-chan. The crisp fried bread crumbs easily crumbled as the sweetness of sugar spread amply across his mouth. It was the sort of snack that made one crave coffee or tea.
“I’m not running a café.”
“No need to worry, I’m properly preserving the standards of a public space. No, I’m just playing a little game of hide and seek here…”
“Hide and seek?”
“There’s going to be a ball-game tournament among the sports teams soon… quite a few places are trying to pull me in, and they’re making quite a racket…”
“Why is it already a competition…”
Surprisingly, the students of this school all bit on well when it came to these events. Each time one was held, for better or worse, Mia would gather attention.
“Did yesterday’s business go well?”
“Ah, yeah. There was just something I had to deliver to Sawa-chan no matter what. How about you? Did you go straight home after that?”
“Yeah, straight home. I watched the Hare Talk variety show.”
“… Ah, that was yesterday? I missed it.”
Too caught up in whether she was managing to deceive him, she didn’t even think to doubt Takeru’s story. If he cut the conversation unnaturally, there was a fear she might suspect something. That’s why Takeru carried on a surface-level conversation.
“Why don’t you quit eating alone out here? You’ll make the fans of ‘Tsuki High’s Hero’ cry.”
“Hey, s-stop it with that name. I can’t say I’m a fan of it…”
“My junior said it with respect. You should frankly accept the respect of others.”
“… No, but, see, I’m making a lot of enemies.”
Mia gave a troubled laugh.
Takeru took a sip of black vinegar drink before speaking.
“Like Midorikawa from the class over?”
Mia suddenly went quiet, pinching a Fried Sato-chan, and taking a swig of coffee milk as if to force it down her throat.
“They were gossiping about you back there. Aren’t you sticking your head too far where it doesn’t belong? Keep it up like that, and the Hero will be taking a fall in no time.”
“… But the first year was crying.”
Mia indifferently said.
“They said they couldn’t stand the way she laughed. ‘Everyone’s putting up with your voice, so you’d better put up with some punishment. Now we’re even’. What’s that supposed to mean? Do they think human pain can be compared in quantity?”
“… That’s just about how it works. Leave them be. It’s just a whim. Once the novelty’s gone, they’ll lose interest.”
“Then will the pain in her heart disappear given that time?”
For some reason, Mia’s fingertip glided, tracing out her chest. Perhaps it was unconscious, she didn’t seem to take notice. Her eyes weren’t here, they were gazing at something far away.
“Call my nosy or whatever, but I’m not giving up, I can’t leave them be.”
“That’s an ideal. But lip service justice hurts those around you too.”
The lunch broadcast music played. The symbol and characteristic rhythm of the base, inviting in a sense of nostalgia, the cleverly inserted interlude. It was Ben E. King’s Stand by Me.
Mia’s words stopped partway. The look in her eyes turned grim.
“… Ah, I’m sorry. Just feeling a little lightheaded? Feeling dizzy when I’m sitting down, that’s not good.”
“If you’re feeling nauseous, want me to take you to the infirmary?”
“I’m fine, I’m fine. It’s nothing big, really.”
“… I see.”
Even so, Takeru stayed until Mia called down. He drank his black vinegar until it was empty. Perhaps a calmed Mia felt awkward, as she continuously crunched down on her Fried Sato-chan to play it off.
Takeru took out the printout and answer sheet-turned paper airplane from his pocket and returned them to her.
“I’ve got to get going. With this, we’re all even, right?”
“Nope. You’ve still got fifty yen.”
“You’re going to collect the difference between a bottle and paper carton…”
“I am. In order to pay back this debt, you’re going to have to talk to me again.”
“Can’t you make do with someone else? You’ve got plenty of friends.”
“But the only one who knows me, past included is you, Take-chan.”
“That’s why I told you yesterday, we’re not the same any—”
“Maman’s grave. You still visit every year, don’t you?”
Takeru’s words got stuck in his throat on the way out. Mia stared right back at him.
“The people at the temple said it. Every year, a boy comes to offer flowers. That’s you, isn’t it? That’s why I—”
The final bell of lunch break rung. Takeru folded up the black vinegar pack and turned his back to Mia.
“Don’t read and eat at the same time. Aunty in heaven will scold you.”
He heard Mia swallow a breath. But leaving her behind as she was about to say something, Takeru walked off. There is nothing absolute in the world. Everything flows and changes in shape.
Across Takeru’s brain flashed the face of Mia’s mother from the old days.
— I’m counting on you to look after Mia.
“… Of course I will, aunty.”
The one taking the fall wasn’t going to be Mia.
A single Lord Helvenom was plenty.
A musty theater around the Kagari District shopping street.
A single young woman stood petrified before the entrance where the ‘Kagari Odeon’ sign was hung.
Trailing black hair and white headphones.
Wearing the uniform of the prestigious missionary school Saint George’s Girls Academy, the scarf over her abundantly swelled chest swayed. Her headphones played Debussy’s Clair de Lune.
“Oh, Kanon, did you just get here?”
The girl—Alter Ecole’s native form, Sakurai Kanon turned around.
A woman in frameless glasses, whose intellectual eyes were perpetually lifted in rage. A sleeveless blouse and black pants made for a smooth fit on the tall college student.
Togumo Tsumugi, native form of the alter Arachne.
“I’m sorry, Tsumugi-san. Last period dragged on a bit…”
“Ah, with that person as your homeroom teacher, there’s nothing you can do about it. As an alumni, I really can’t make a ruckus. How’s school? Any problems since then?”
“… No, nothing particular.”
Their daily lives hadn’t changed. It was impossible to say if anything had shifted from before the incident to after. Tsumugi and Canon pushed open the theater doors, side by side.
“Hey. Tsumugi, Sakurai.”
Greeting them from the lobby sofa was a man in a shaved-side pompadour, an unfurled weekly publication in his hands. Tsumigi gazed head on, into the Alter Lemeo, Kamero Reo’s sanpaku eyes.
“How rare. To think you’re the one who’s on time. Where are the others?”
“The twins are engrossing themselves in the flick. Old Ikaruga’s going to be late, apparently. Good grief, why are those first generation gramps always so carefree…”
“Yeah, yeah. Start complaining about the generation gap, and it’s never going to end.”
As Kamero loathsomely uttered the words, Tsumugi tiresomely lowered her shoulders.
“From their point of view, the next gen that lives, mixed in with humans must look like a feeble bunch. They’re folks who live their lives ‘For the good fight,’ after all.”
“The good fight…”
That was the motto passed down through Calamity Co. Leviathan.
What Ikaruga had said to Freiger on their parting. It wasn’t as if Kanon had clearly experienced the meaning of those words yet, but there was still something she understood. The bus jacking the other day was certainly not a ‘good fight’ to her or her group.
“Even so, is there even any film here? I was sure this was a meeting point, a theater in name a lone.”
“I hear the latest projectors can even play blue ray, according to the twins, old Freiger prepared it…”
“… Ah, so he was actually managing it, for argument’s sake. An official dummy corporation? I’m sure there are plenty of these facilities left around Tsukimori…”
Kagari Odeon. At a glance, it seemed no more than an old theater, but in actuality, it had once been a meeting facility of Leviathan. Three days prior, a notification came to the SNS they shared and used.
◆Lord Helvenom: Three days from now, 16:00, I await you at Kagari Odeon. Togumo Tsumigi, Kamero Reo, Sakurai Kanon, Nekomiya Hatoko, Nekomiya Matoko, Iga Ruka. I look forward to seeing your true faces.
A message from the second Lord Helvenom.
He went out of his way to call them by their human names. To an alter, knowing their identity as a native was akin to ruling them socially. Therefore, at the end of their discussion, with t he agreement of all members, they decided to answer the summons.
Tsumugi took a glance around the lobby.
“At present, have there been any visitors apart from us?”
“… None. Couldn’t be. I’ve been here watching the whole time.”
Kamero answered nervously. Perhaps the encounter from that day still clung to his mind, as he spoke without conviction.
“… Hey, just in case, wouldn’t it be better if we used our alter forms? There’s no need to go out of our way following his orders and exposing our faces.”
“To not give him any space to take advantage of us, we’re better off following orders for now. Even if we come in alter, if he uses Terreur, we’ve got no hopes of winning.”
Kanon checked her wristwatch. The dial pointed out fifteen fifty.
“Um, is it about time for us to get Hatoko-chan…? It’s almost time.”
“… Yeah, you’re right. Could you do that, Kanon?”
With a nod, Cannon opened the door tot eh audience seats—and froze on the spot. On the screen, an extreme closeup of a strange old woman leapt towards her.
“You know, I think we need to put on a more horrific production in our operations now and then. This sort of bang! Whoosh sort of thing! What’s your take on it, Matoko!”
“Hatoko, there’s a paper difference between fear and laughter… a production of the strange might end up a gag…”
The twins eating popcorn in sailor uniforms took up seats as they pleased, making a merry ruckus. The native forms of alters Hurtle and Murtle, Nekomiya Hatoko and Nekomiya Matoko. The one with pigtails was Hurtle/Hatoko, while the ponytailed one was Murtle/Matoko.
The disputing twins looked back to notice a frozen Kanon.
“Oh, Kanonee-chan! Yoohoo! Want to watch Hags of the Dead with us!? Wait, what’s gotten you so pale?”
“… No, it’s nothing.”
Kanon removed her face from the screen as she answered.
With sleepy eyes, Matoko looked between the screen and Kanon a few times, before hitting her hands together as if something had clicked.
“Don’t tell me… you’re no good with scares?”
“T-Tyat’s not true at all!”
In her fluster, her tongue wouldn’t move as she wanted it. She was trying her best to maintain her dignity as their elder, but the BGM of her heard, and the footage had her half in tears.
“Yeah, yeah. Flaunting Kanon’s cowardice and the screening ends here. It’s about time.”
Entering in behind, Tsumigi clapped her hands together. Hatoko displeasedly tapered her lips.
“Eh! That’s going too far! This is where it gets interesting!”
“Right now, more than the movie’s conclusion, it’s our here to come.”
It was there Kanon noticed. The anxious looks in Hatoko and Matoko’s eyes. They were scared, the both of them. They cowered, not knowing the identity of the one who would inform them of their future. “… I-it’ll be fine,” Kanon said in as bright as she could muster.
“That second generation helped us out the other day, I don’t think he’ll treat us too poorly. That’s why… I’m sure it’ll work out!”
Hatoko and Matoko stood an raced over to Kanon.
She gently embraced the two. Even if they were alters, the way their hearts worked was no different from that of a human. Supposedly.
“… Alright, then let’s get to cutting the footage already.”
Observing the state of affairs, Makero turned towards the projector room, and it was then. The footage was abruptly interrupted.
Everyone tried to cry out. But they couldn’t.
What they had gotten a taste of the other day, the ‘pressure’ of fear bound Kanon and the others. Tormented by a strangling sensation, she took a glance at her own wristwatch. The clock needle pointed perfectly at six.
“I see you’ve gathered, my good alters.”
A corpse voice resounded through the hall.
A single shadow stood still before the silver screen lit up in white reel-less projector light.
The jet-black skull—the second Lord Helvenom.
Helvenom standing on the alter quietly lifted up his hands.
Just as before, the air suddenly became lighter. They could talk. But as if paralyzed, no one tried a move. Kamero’s mouth warped in anger as he spoke.
“Just give it a rest already… black skull… with that time and this time, pulling out your bag of tricks…! In the first place, old Ikaruga ain’t here yet!”
“I have no business with someone who’s not here. I simply came to ask your will.”
“Will, will, eh…”
Her mind still taken by fear, Tsumugi firmly turned towards Lord Helvenom and spoke.
“Would that have anything to do with the reformation of Leviathan?”
Lord Helvenom had no immediate answer, so she added on further questions.
“What it comes to Lord Helvenom, he’s got to be the leader of Calamity Co. Leviathan. If you proclaim yourself the second gen, I get why you’d aim to bring it back together. But why would that make you come into contact with us? There are plenty of other, larger alter groups out there.”
After Leviathan dissolved, the alters each formed their own factions and burrowed underground. While their scales never reached what Leviathan once boasted, their activities continued under the surface.
Tsumugi’s group was a puny power that couldn’t even be counted among their ranks. Try as she may, she couldn’t understand why Lord Helvenom would get in contact with them.
“… The alters these days are extraordinarily feeble and divided.”
Lord Helvenom began to say.
“To start with, alters were born half a century ago… they began as synthetic life born from genetic engineering. While they usually spend their lives in human form, by recalling certain stimulus, they change into alter forms clad in exterior organs composed of alter cells. Those external organs chided as ‘living character costumes’ carry an aberrant power unthinkable of the natural world, and as a result, the people feared alters as a threat. But precisely because Alters are a minority, they required unity. Calamity Co. Leviathan was the product of that.”
The black skull recited the nightmaric history dwelling in this town.
The log of the nightmare known as the alters.
“To the alters, Leviathan was their law and their fear. But the times are always changing. To prevent itself from being exterminated by evolving justice, Leviathan must take in new blood once more to evolve. It is for that reason that I chose you.”
What came to Kanon’s mind as she repeated those words was the form of the white rabbit. The hero of justice, Gaimoon. That power was certainly worthy of the name, evolving justice.
Kamero squinted his sanpaku eyes.
“Hey now, are you being sarcastic? We just lost to that evolving justice of yours…? So why’ve we got to be this new blood of Leviathan…!?”
“That is because in this town that lost Leviathan, you are the sole alters who have shown the will to fight.”
“Will to fight?”
Kanon repeated again, and Lord Helvenom leisurely nodded.
“The objective of the bus jack the other day was revenge for the alter Doc Moel who was killed by police, am I right?”
This time, everyone swallowed a breath. With her father’s name brought up, Tsumuji’s expression turned contrarily level.
“To think you’d already dug into father… even the police shouldn’t know about that…”
“His identity in native form was Togumo Noumu, professor of philosophy at Tsukimori City University. You were originally students of the ‘stranger class’ he would hold for alters. He was killed by police two years ago. There were suspicions of him being an executive of Leviathan. Your plea to release the alters in custody was to get in a blow on the police force who killed your dear teacher.”
“… Those were false charges. Father cut his relations with Leviathan a long time ago. And it wasn’t revenge either.”
Tsumugi answered with a shake of her head.
“Ever since Leviathan dissolved, the alter hunts have worsened. There’s no force we can depend on, and unrelated alters are being taken in one after the next where people can’t see. So we stood. To become the trigger that breaks down the present state of alters… to make this town know of our existence, our anger… but the result—”
“It was futile.”
Lord Helvenom mercilessly declared. Tsumugi’s face tensed up, she kept silent.
A vein surfaced on Kamero’s forehead, but he didn’t try to refute it.
“After putting in such effort, even losing a comrade, in the end, nothing changed. This town doesn’t even think of alters as evil. A troublesome bunch that’s reported on the news now and again, that’s the extent of their recognition. The people of this town don’t even discriminate against alters.”
Kanon bit into her lip. She knew. No matter how they stamped their feet, this reality wouldn’t change. There were no means to overturn it.
“If you have the will to rebel, the possibility exists.”
At that word unbefitting the embodiment of absolute evil, those concerned showed confusion.
“Three years ago, Leviathan was defeated by Gaimoon. The first Lord Helvenom was lost, the alters lost their fangs to fight. No matter what fearsome physical abilities one might possess, no matter what regeneration powers they boast, a power unbacked by will holds no meaning. To oppose an evolving justice, a continually changing will is necessary. The will to oppose reality is necessary. In that incident, you showed such a will, there could be no greater qualification. You have the right to be the new Leviathan. If you come with me, we shall cut open a future of new possibilities.”
“And would that possibility…” Matoko timidly asked, “Involve defeating Gaimoon?”
Lord Helvenom responded without a second of hesitation.
Matoko and Hatoko’s nostrils swelled.
A new Leviathan led by the second Helvenom. Kanon still couldn’t imagine what sort of thing that would be; yet the black skulls words were filled with a dark temptation. A premonition that the present state could be changed. The sensation their deeds were affirmed.
Everyone’s heart had been swayed. The form of a future they had yet to see, the choice of a possibility thrust out before them—
“Hey, hey, to start without me, now that’s just mean, Fakevenom-san.”
A scornful voice returned Kanon to her senses. Something was twined around Lord Helvenom’s wrist. A thick rope-like tentacle.
“What’s wrong? You were caught quite anticlimactically, kid. That person, the first would never let me get this close.”
Standing up from a front row seat, a mirage-like shadow. The pigment on his body’s surface that let him meld in with the surrounding environment increased in definitiveness. Kanon knew only one alter with such an ability.
“Ikaruga-san… when did you…”
“The next gen’s too honest for their own good. This is where you get a jump on them, and then it’s easy picking.”
Exposing an alter form similar to a squid, Ikaruga used his tentacles to bind Lord Helvenom on the platform.
“You got me by surprise last time, but I’ve always had a long rebellious streak. To oppose that person’s Terreur, I built up a level of resistance. That’s how it is, so the likes of your sham-Terreur isn’t gonna work.”
Kanon moved to stop Ikaruga, but she couldn’t move from where she was. Tsumugi and Kamero, Hatoko and Matoko swallowed their saliva as they watched over the situation.
With his arms restrained, Lord Helvenom showed not the slightest unrest.
“Very well. Then I’ll show you.”
The empty skull issued a proclamation.
“Carrying on Lord Helvenom’s will, the form of my violence…”
The second Lord Helvenom, Takeru maintained rational thought.
From the start, he didn’t feel pain. The multiple chips embedded throughout his brain—two in the cerebral cortex, one in the amygdala, one in the thalamus—worked in conjunction with his mask, leading him into a sort of trance.
That’s why, with a level head, he confirmed the letters displayed on his visor.
‘ACM-SYSTEM TERREUR MODE ON’
His Terreur was operating normally after all.
As Ikaruga said, it simply wasn’t working on him. Terreur had originally been the first generation Helvenom’s special power as an alter. Using the user’s own image of fear, their voice and actions would work on the opponent’s subconscious; it was a form of hypnosis that spread fear like a contagion. The Terreur Takeru could use now was no more than a false reproduction of the original’s power through mechanical means.
What’s more, while this Terreur was active, he would constantly have to face up with his own trauma. The more he wanted to rule another, the more his own heart would rot. If he wanted to grant fear unto others, he really would have to tame his own fear.
Being the first alters, the first generation served and fought under Lord Helvenom.
The younger, next generation lived in society, between the threshold of native and alter.
While they were alters all the same, the thought process of the first and next generation were completely different. Perhaps there was another reason in that tangent as to why his Terreur wouldn’t work.
Takeru was different from the alters before his eyes. He had no alter cells, he was only human. A suit and a mask, only through the grace of the system that operated with them could he begin to act as Lord Helvenom.
Therefore, the current Takeru only had a single means to control the first generation—he would have to make them submit through direct violence. He called up a function in his head.
‘Muls Impacter Active’
The cover of the wrist wrapped by the tentacle instantly retracted, the weapon stored in the inner suit spouted out, and each hand clenched down on the grips.
Ikaruga chimed out a skillful whistle.
“Now that’s cooooool. Those are some thick tonfas. They look perfect to give a kid for Christmas.”
Now answering, Takeru readied the black tonfas—muls impacters in his hands.
Proper name Muls Impacter-HV02.
Fitted with electromagnetic accelerators, they were high-tech tonfas; the ‘form of violence’ held by the second Helvenom Takeru.
‘Inner muscle output max. Restrict to arm parts.’
In accordance with Takeru’s thoughts, the artificial muscle set under the suit rapidly expanded. Takeru mustered all his might, crossing both his arms in front of his head. The tentacle restraints were easily torn off.
A tepid transparent liquid scattered across the platform.
“Hmm, your power’s not too shabby, but…”
A new layer of information overlapped Taker’s vision through the visor. The automatically recorded fluctuations in the surrounding air. His sight shifted from visible light to infrared.
What he confirmed by sight was a mass with heat—a single transparent tentacle was encroaching upon him.
Takeru pushed the switch on the grip in his hand.
With the grip as the central axis, his right muls impacter ferociously went into a high-speed rotation. It became a black shield, its spin repelling the tentacle.
But Ikaruga wasn’t the least bit flustered.
“You really should watch out for my bodily fluids, fake.”
In the fluids that scattered, a green liquid was mixed in. The moment that stuck to Takeru’s suit. It raised a sound and began bubbling up. The surface of the titanium alloy suit was mildly corroded.
Strong acidic bodily fluids. If he carelessly crushed tentacles, he wouldn’t get out unscathed.
Hs abruptly changed his plan. The aim wasn’t the tentacles—
“So naturally, you go for the main body, right?”
His squid-mimicking head produced countless tentacles, and readied them. Their tips splid open. He pointed the muzzles of his acid spraying guns.
“Approach, and you’ll be soaked. You’ll find that strange mask and suit will quickly find a place in the dumpster. Now what do you do? How will you go at it, Fakevenom!?”
Takeru halted his approaching feet. Takeru on the platform, and Ikaruga in the audience seat, there was approximately five meters between them.
Takeru took a slight step with his left foot. As long as the tentacles were there, it was certainly dangerous to approach. In that case, he simply didn’t have to. As he stepped forward, he wound up his left shoulder blade.
Only a slight motion was visible to the eye. Ikaruga’s eyes failed to detect the preparation. So undetected, he squeezed out power like a bolt in a crossbow—
And forcefully released the spring in his shoulder.
Along with his reinforced muscle, his left fist thrust out like an arrow. The tip of its gripped tonfa sharply set out. At the same time, Takeru pulled the trigger on the grip.
The kinetic energy from the thrust was compressed by the internal engine, changing into a condensed shockwave. The created shockwave became a bullet and was emitted from the tip of the tonfa.
By the time he realized what was happening, Ikaruga’s body was already flying back.
Takeru braced himself for the impact with his augmented legs. The recoil did send his body back somewhat, but hurriedly recovering his stance, he moved on to his next action.
Takeru leapt down from the platform.
The falling Ikaruga rolled to land. His damage was light. As he tried to stand, before his eyes, Takeru thrust out his weapon.
But he didn’t land a finishing blow. The muzzles of Ikaruga’s tentacles were already directed at his mask.
A while of silence descended over the two glaring parties.
“Message from the first.”
Takeru was the one to break it.
“… Bloody lifelong rebel. You could at least pay a visit now and again, apparently.”
Ikaruga’s eyes twitched in response. For a while, he gazed at Takeru appraisingly.
“Looks like it’s true you’re carrying on from the first…”
His head, his tentacles gradually crumbled. With the dispelling of a transformation, the external organs formed from alter cells would calcify and crumble. From within, the sunken-eyed face of a middle-aged man appeared.
“Are you serious? Do you seriously plan to bring Gaimoon down?”
“… Of course. ” Takeru austerely nodded. “I was certain you’d be longing for one too, a fight to burn your life away. I shall produce the place to use your life. If that’s not enough to satisfy you, then kill me anytime.”
Ikaruga—Iga Ruka gave a cynical laugh and shook his head.
“… Fine. I’m not expecting anything but… well, I’ll at least confirm your intentions with my own eyes. No idea what they plan on doing.”
Tsumugi answered immediately.
“At this rate, we won’t be able to continue our activity. It’s heartening to move alongside you, Second Lord Helvenom.”
“Me too, me too! If we’re blowing Gaimoon away, I’m super for it!”
Energetically raising her hand was Hatoko. Beside her, Matoko nervously raised her own.
“… I’m with her.”
“Good grief, each and every one of you, are you sane…”
“Huh? Reo, you’re against it?”
“… Fine! I’ll go! Nothing I can do about it, I’ll follow along!”
Kamero scratched his head before turning to Kanon.
“What about you, Sakurai? You’ve still got school, right?”
“Huh? Ah, you’re right…”
After reservedly looking Takeru way a while, Kanon cautiously spun her words.
“I still don’t really know you yet… what you’re doing either, but…”
Kanon asked as if she’d made some resolve.
“Will you really show us? A new future for alters? Will we really be able to defeat Gaimoon?”
Takeru slowly nodded.
Not a single soul suspected what his true goal could be. What he was truly attempting to accomplish.
“I’ll swear it, alters with a future ahead. I shall grant you victory.”
By no means had Takeru become Lord Helvenom for the sake of the Alters’ future.
“When Leviathan is revived, the people shall remember their fear of the alters they’ve forgotten. We shall change the alter society with our hands.”
It was all to become the enemy of the city’s hero Gaimoon.
“We’ll teach Gaimoon. We are by no means an evil. Our justice shall roar through this town, through the entire world.”
For the sake of Omou Mia who had no choice but to live as a hero of justice. That was why Takeru needed them. Alters who hadn’t yet lost their will to rebel. The power to move as the symbol of evil, Leviathan’s arms and legs was an absolute necessity.
Takeru would drag the alters through hell for the sake of such ego.
With no means of knowing Takeru’s intent, Kanon eventually gave a satisfied nod.
“Understood. I’ll fight too. I’ll join your new Leviathan.”
“… I have heard your decision.”
The die had been cast. There was no turning back.
Takeru hid his face and sin behind a mask and majestically addressed them.
“Then allow me to give you your next mission…”
Omou Mia never missed out on her usual training.
Six years since she was granted the power of Gaimoon, at this point, her training was already incorporated as a portion of her everyday life.
Even if that included abdominal strengthening exercises while hanging upside-down from the edge of a roof of a ten-story building.
“295… 296… 297… 298…”
Training gear over her body, her legs latched onto the roof’s ledge.
No lifeline. If her mind wavered the slightest bit, an immediate thirty-meter dive to the ground. Mia carried out sich life-threatening training all quite indifferently.
“299… three hundred!”
With the same momentum she strained her abs with, she rose up.
Mia looked at the sky, she stretched up high.
The clear Sunday sun put her in a good mood.
As she stretched, she prayed earnestly that the hero of justice wouldn’t have a role today.
‘The time a hero is needed is the time evil runs rampant in society.’
The previous Gaimoon, Mia’s father had told her.
‘That’s why the Hero must do their best to lose the reason for their existence. That is the natural way a hero should be.’
“… To work to not exist, huh.”
She wasn’t particularly fixated on the meaning of a hero. To start with, this was a power she obtained through various forms of happenstance. Of course it would be better if there wasn’t a situation where the hero had to set out.
Three years since she returned to Tsukimori City.
After colliding with Calamity Co. Leviathan, the pace she set out as Gaimoon gradually fell. From the year’s onset, she would have perhaps one, if any, chances to turn into Gaimoon a month.
She felt it had been quite a while since she held full-blown combat with an Alter as she had the week before.
In the end, that alter group was simply followers taking after Calamity Co. Leviathan in name alone, and the general consensus was that their activities were mostly dying out as well.
The threat of alters, the reason for a hero’s existence were certainly on the verge of disappearing from this city.
That was definitely a very good thing, she thought.
Now that she had defeated Lord Helvenom and Leviathan, Gaimoon had finished its role.
When that happened, she would be able to return to being a normal high schooler.
At times, Mia grew anxious. Pushing a single finger into her chest, she tried tracing it out. The marks of a surgery she had undergone to heal the wounds from that incident, and to equip her with the power to fight.
Now barely any trace of it remained, but at what spot, and how had the wound come to be? Even now, Mia could remember it all too clearly.
The power she gained and the past she experienced were all irreversible. She couldn’t turn back.
A younger form crossed her mind.
Her reunion with Takeru came a year ago, the day of Tsukimori First High’s entrance ceremony. After scanning the billboard that listed out class assignments, Mia had discovered a nostalgic name among them.
The name of a childhood friend that had never once left her heart. Mia immediately raced off. She spotted Okina Takeru in the designated class. He had grown more mature than she remembered him, his physique was toned, he had gotten around to wear glasses. But.
— H-hey, I see you’re holding up, Take-chan!
Her pitch a little high, Mia greeted him. She believed they’d be able to talk just like the old days. But Takeru in the classroom took just a glance at Mia, and responded cold and to the point.
— Ah, it’s been a while. Omou-san.
It really was cold. His attitude spoke that didn’t feel anything strongly or anything at all.
As if their old relation didn’t hold any meaning.
No matter how many times she tried talking to him after that, she was always avoided. In the end, Mia spent a year unable to close the distance with Takeru.
If she told him she was Gaimoon, how would Takeru react?
If it were the old Takeru, the Takeru who would protect her from bullying, then shocked as he was, perhaps he would believe her. But was it alright to expect the same from the current Takeru?
— I’ve changed. It happens, we all change.
“Has Take-chan really changed?”
After saying that, Mia gave a sigh.
“… Have I changed too?”
Mia still believed there were parts of him that hadn’t changed. She believed she could regain the relation they had back then. Yet still, it frightened her. To interact with Takeru and witness the parts of him that had changed. More than anything, the very thought she might find herself disappointed in him.
No, realistically speaking, she was already disappointed in the current Takeru.
The past Takeru would never overlook Midorikawa’s bullying.
When the one who once protected Mia from bullies was Takeru himself.
—. It’s not just you. Lip service justice hurts those around you too.
It’s not just lip service. There’s no way anything good will come out of overlooking Midorikawa’s actions. From minor hatred, it’s all too easy for people to direct malice towards other.
That was something society pardoned as inevitable. Subjected to malice, the wounded soul is labeled, reaping what they sowed. A great many people failed to realize just how fearsome that label was in itself.
Mia had no choice but to take the side of people subjected to malice.
That was her mission as one carrying on the name of Gaimoon, and her obligation. That’s why she had to fight. Now that the evils of alters were fading from town, she would need to fight the malice lurking in—
Mia held her temple. A piercing sharp headache. Mia produced a bag of pills from her bag on the roof. She swallowed one. It would take a bit of time before its components took effect. For now, she took some deep breaths and tried to calm her heart as best she could.
These headaches had carried on for a while. They weren’t too frequent at first, but lately, their outbreaks were gradually growing in frequency. Perhaps she was better off pulling out for today.
When Mia was about to stop her training and leave, the smart phone in her bag rang a special tone.
A special sound, it’s meaning was ‘Emergency Dispatch’.
The hesitation, the headache from moments ago disappeared from Mia’s consciousness.
Mia confirmed the situation and site from the email and she produced equipment from her sports bag. Pure white armored protectors. Elbows, knees, gloves, belts to wrap around various parts, and dedicated boots. No matter the time, Mia would always carry these protectors on her person.
While there were numerous parts, they were all designed to be put on smoothly. Mia finished changing without neglecting a single piece.
She slowly took a deep breath. Gripping both her fists, she firmly pressed her upper arms to her body. And with a voice heavy in resolve, she proclaimed.
She pulled both fists to her hips and took on a grand pose of fighting spirit.
This was all the transformation ritual to reach Gaimoon.
In the surgery six years ago, Mia’s body was transplanted with an alter ganglion.
With her actions as the key, the alter cells generated from that ganglion enveloped her body at a fearsome pace. An instantly hardening body surface, throbbing, strengthened muscles, and finally, she equipped the mask.
The mask that symbolized Tsukimori’s justice.
“… Gaimoon go.”
The transformation completed, Mia—Gaimoon hopped off the roof and sped towards the scene.
Those walking down the road noticed the hero and looked up at the buildings. From building to building, Gaimoon hopped. The justice fantasy permitted to Tsukimori alone sped through the city.
Eventually, Gaimoon arrived at the roof of a certain building.
Cater-cornered from the street, the nine-story building of a high-class business hotel was enveloped in black smoke. The rubberneckers crowded, as the fire brigade desperately continued worked to quell the problem. At present, the flame’s momentum showed no signs of dying down.
Across the transmitter in her mask, Gaimoon’s cooperator informed her of the state of affairs.
The evacuation was mostly complete, but the safety of the ninth floor’s guests had yet to be confirmed. The fire was intense, and the state was such that fire brigade were unable to break in.
Electric extinguishing was good for brushing away flames around her, but it wasn’t suited for a large-scale blaze.
That being the case, she was capable of assisting people stuck within it.
Time was of the essence. Gaimoon took some distance. In order to save whoever might be left behind, she leapt over the municipal roads and transferred onto the burning hotel.
“Hey, it’s Gaimoon!”
Receiving looks from the onlookers who noticed the situation, Gaimoon broke a window to roll into the ninth floor letting off black smoke.
She tumbled into a hall laid out in red carpet. The place was filled with smoke, blocking off her vision. As her mask was equipped with ventilation functionality, there was no harm to her, but having no visuals was somewhat troublesome.
First, she would need to locate those in need of help.
“Someone! Is anyone there!”
Someone’s voice resounded from the depths of the passage.
Gaimoon put a hand to the wall, racing along it in the direction she heard the voice.
“I came to save you! Where are you right now!?”
Her hand on the wall hung over a doorknob. From a half-open door, Gaimoon plunged inside.
For some reason, the room’s floor was unsparingly submerged in water.
It was filled with smoke and she couldn’t see the whole picture, but the room’s arrangement was considerably vast. It was likely a suite. Gaimoon took a wary look around.
Turning to a muffled voice, Gaimoon saw the young girl and stopped in her tracks.
The young girl in undergarments—Midorikawa’s limbs were bound and fastened to a chair.
Her bare feet were submerged in the water buildup on the floor, her mouth was covered with a towel. Most likely intended as a mouth gag. The eye mask covering her face had gone sloppy with tears, sweat, and snot.
The surprise was only momentary, Gaimoon immediately moved to save her.
The next instant, she perceived the true abnormality. Holding her left hand to the ceiling, she deployed her biological shield on her forearm. A rippling impact caused the shield to shake. An Ultrasonic Bullet. One week prior, Gaimoon had tasted an identical attack.
Something raced across the ceiling. A squirming shadow obscured in black smoke.
“… The kaijin from that bus jack. Are you here for me?”
“It’s not kaijin, it’s alter, Gaimoon. You’re our enemy, after all.”
The indifferent matter-of-factly voice of an enemy. Even if she couldn’t see them, she could grasp their general location through their voice and presence.
As with the last fight, she could use her lightning nail—electrifying alter cells hardened to the level of metal, using the electricity in her arm to accelerate and discharge it as a biological bullet—to take out the enemy.
“You can’t use them, can you? Any electric moves, with the state of the room.”
Gaimoon didn’t answer.
A room soaked with water. A bound hostage. If she let off any discharges, there was a danger she would electrocute her.
“You’re not one to abandon hostages. So what will you do? In this smoke, do you think the hostage’s body will hold up forever?”
The hostage had begun to cough. The mouth gag was a blessing, and she got off without inhaling too much smoke, there was no doubt she needed to get her out with no times to lose.
“In that case,”
Gaimoon bent her knees and took on a low stance.
“I just have to get her out fast.”
Her goal wasn’t subjugating an alter, she was here to save the human before her eyes.
Kicking the floor, Gaimoon took off like a leopard.
The room was perfectly at the end of the hotel. If she pierced through the wall before her, hostage in hand, she’d be able to make it outside. A height of nine floors would be no problem at all.
The moment she touched Midorikawa bound to the chair, a piercing shriek entered her ears.
Unlike before, the enemy’s ultrasonic waves spread thin and wide across the room.
Right after, the air-rending sound of multiple discharges.
Gaimoon sensed the presence. The existence of arrows fired simultaneously from different directions.
She immediately turned, lowering a chop on the approaching arrows. One, two, three iron arrows rolled across the floor. But the final arrow was for Midorikawa. Her chop wouldn’t make it in time.
Gaimoon covered for the girl and took the final arrow to the back. As her rigid skin obstructed it, she suffered no serious wounds.
Just like that, Gaimoon lifted Midorikawa up and kicked away the wall.
A dive from the hotel’s ninth floor. She was falling towards the hotel parking lot. Where a number of cars and trucks were lined up, she caught sight of an ambulance and fire engine.
Perhaps from shock, Midorikawa had fainted.
As she fell, she measured out the distance to the ground. Gaimoon boasted dynamic vision great enough to see through a bullet, at the very last moment, she turned her body, Midorikawa and all. Killing the impact with the same fundamentals of a cat, she tried to land on the ground.
But the moment before her landing, Gaimoon noticed.
A stopped truck took off, in an attempt to run her over the moment she landed.
In the driver’s seat, she could see the Chameleon alter who was there in the bus.
She wouldn’t make it in time to dodge. At this rage, she would be rammed with Midorikawa.
Crying out, Gaimoon tossed the girl towards a nearby rescuer. The surprised paramedic barely managed to catch Midorikawa, and the moment after she saw that off.
The truck collided.
Sent airborn, Gaimoon was slammed straight into a wall. But the truck’s advance didn’t stop there. Taking Gaimoon along, it broke through the first floor of the hotel.
This wasn’t an impact she couldn’t endure. But the damage resounded through her body.
A sensation different from usual. Her body was hot as if it was blazing up.
Panicking at an unforeseen situation, Gaimoon recalled the iron arrow stuck into her back.
If the arrow head had been laid with some sort of poison…
But she had never heard of any poison that functioned on alter cells.
Those thoughts of hers were immediately sent flying by the storm of black smoke.
An airtight room where cinders of a flame remained. The fresh air sent in with the truck’s infiltration. By the time she understood, it was all too late.
The smoldering cinders gained new air, once again explosively blazing up—the backdraft effect.
An electronic extinguish wouldn’t make it in time.
All at once, a blazing hellfire swallowed up Gaimoon’s defenseless body.
At the same time.
Okina Takeru—the second Lord Helvenom received a transmission from his comrades.
‘This is Ecole, as expected, the Rabbit took the hostage and fell towards the ground. One of the crossbow bolts got her in the back. I’ve confirmed her collision with the truck.’
‘Cough, hac… Lemeo here. Plan worked. Rammed the rabbit and thrust ‘im into the first floor. ‘n wait, you never told me it was going to explode! Thanks to that, the driver’s seat is a mess—’
“Situation understood. Ecole, withdraw from the scene. Lemeo, immediately after filming the Rabbit, withdraw. Report in when you can.”
To the side of Lord Helvenom as he cut his transmission, Ikargua blew a whistle.
“You’re not bad. I never thought to use Apoptonitro like that. With the past Leviathan, to force down traitors and such, we kept some around, but…”
Originally, when an alter affiliated with Leviathan was on the brink of death, to prevent their own biological data from being leaked, it was a self-destructing medicinal compound to dispose of the corpse.
When the effects of Apoptonitro made it into the body, it would work on the Alter Ganglion to bring about an explosive effect. But just by applying it directly to the alter cells, it was possible to inflict damage.
Even if it didn’t reach the level of a fatal wound, right around now, Gaimoon must be feeling it.
The pain of her own body crumbling apart.
“Even so, your MO’s just a bit too roundabout, perhaps? Starting a fire in a place like that to lure the hero out.”
“I’ve already told you the objective of this mission, have I not?”
“What I’m trying to say is, why did you properly let everyone apart from the hostage evacuate? Does it really matter, what happens to a human or two?”
At Ikaruga’s discontent words, Arachne gave an approving nod. It seemed she held the same question.
“The new Leviathan has no intent to put out unnecessary sacrifices. Humans react quite sensitively to human deaths. If you kill them recklessly, in the end, they’ll come to thoroughly hunt us down. I’m sure you all understand the terror of natives at a time like that. For now, we’re not at a stage where we need needlessly stimulate them.”
“… Needlessly stimulate, eh.”
Ikaruga shrugged his shoulders as he sent a look in a certain direction.
“Then should I think of ‘this’ as a necessary sacrifice?”
A man wearing nothing but boxer briefs frantically shook his head. He was bound to the same sort of chair as Midorikawa, who’d been confined to the hotel.
At present, Lord Helvenom and the others were in an abandoned building near the hotel. He had taken along Ikaruga and Arachne to hold the man here.
Lord Helvenom held out his hand. He touched his fingers wrapped in titanium ally to the cowering man’s chin.
“This isn’t a sacrifice. It’s a piece. For us to rule Tsukimori City.”
“Stop… I’m begging you… just end it…! What are you saying I did to deserve this!?”
“Do I really have to spell it out?”
“The analysis is over.”
Arachne held up the man’s smartphone connected by USB to her laptop PC.
“His contact book, the emails he’s exchanged, pictures, Googla account, the whole shebang. If you’re a manager, shouldn’t you be a little more careful with the private cellphone you carry around? In this day and age, even high school students are more security-conscious.”
“Y-you better be ready, you lot… d-doing something, like this, in the end, you k-kaijin only exist to be defeated by Gaimoon—”
“Perhaps, but you’ll be judged for your crimes well before that.”
Lord Helvenom thrust a transparent zip-lock before him.
At the light in the container, the fine white powder in the bag glistened as it caught the light.
“You bring a minor to the hotel, and enjoy her with drugs procured overseas? It’s not like this is your first offense, am I right?”
“Yes, it just keeps pouring out from the extracted emails. Contact with other girls, and also… what complete and utter scum.”
Arachne must really have not wanted to finish that sentence. She spat out the words.
Oh my, Ikaruga continued in an amused laugh.
“You really went and did it, man. You can’t do that, leaving evidence like that on your work phone. It’s because you’re like that, that the big bad alters are going to take you in and suck you to the bone. Do you get it? Stupid native?”
“S… shave… shave m-m…”
“You want to be saved? Then I’ll give you a choice.”
The man’s chattering teeth continued to ring out. Only an empty black skull reflected back in his eyes.
“Obey our will and show sincerity, or oppose. Choose whichever you like.”
“S… sincerity… what do I…!”
“Oh, that’s simple.”
Lord Helvenom took a slight turn towards Arachne.
With a nod, Arachne pinched up a document file in her long jointed legs and held it out before the man.
“Sign the contract. It will guarantee your safety. We are the second party, you are the first.”
“Guarantee… wait…” looking over the contents of the contract, the man gasped. “’Prioritizing them in any and all business, the first party will abide by the second party’s demands,’ wait… you’re telling me to become a slave!”
“Is something strange? Your prolonged life is guaranteed.”
The man swallowed his breath.
“Publicly a trading company, but your identity was the front to a Yakuza group. You’ve done well extending your reach these past few years. With Leviathan dissolved, did you think you could do whatever they wanted in Tsukimori?”
“D-don’t think you’ll get off unscathed… when this gets out… the people I have backing me…”
“They won’t move.”
Lord Helvenom stated clearly.
“Why do you think the crime syndicates never laid a hand on this city until recently? It’s because they were well aware of the risk of dealing face to face with alters. From their point of view, there are any number of people who could take your place. There’s no way they would undergo that risk to save you. That’s the sort of city Tsukimori is.”
The man’s face turned pale. He broke into shivers.
“You’ll be making up for the sins you committed in this town.. We’re the ones handing down judgment. The death of your freedom, or the death of your existence, choose whichever one you like.”
The man now understood. Just who held a grip on his fate.
— There wasn’t even a need to use Terreur.
Under Lord Helvenom’s mask, Takeru spat out a breath.
His tension, his sweat, it was all hidden away. Neither Ikaruga nor Arachne noticed either. He was perfectly playing the part of an evil commander.
At this point, he knew the mission’s completion was a matter of time, and it was then.
‘… This is Murtle. Helvenom… san… can you hear me?’
The radio in his mask suddenly took his attention off the man.
A transmission from Murtle, who was supposed to be a backup member this time.
Why was she calling at this time? Takeru thought dubiously as Murtle answered wirelessly.
‘I’m with Hurtle right now… we’re going in to exterminate Gaimoon…’
Around that time, Ecole was alone, preparing to escape from the room Gaimoon and Midorikawa had left.
She collected the crossbows that went off in response to her ultrasonic waves. After getting rid of the other evidence, she was about to withdraw, at Hurtle’s voice from the radio, she hurriedly halted herself.
‘Your orders were to keep on standby.’
‘But you told us… you would give us the means to defeat Gaimoon… so…’
‘I made a promise, you know, with Hurtle and the others. We were going to crush that guy–’
In Murtle’s place, Hurtle answered.
‘Isn’t this the perfect change? It’s totally impossible to not do it, right?’
‘The objective of this plan was not to subjugate Gaimoon. Any further gains are unnecessary. Promptly retreat.’
There were two objectives to this mission.
First was the anti-Gaimoon combat Ecole and the others tested out.
This was to drive the hero into a corner and film the sight of his defeat. In order to shake up Gaimoon’s victory legend that had become conclusive in last time’s bus jacking, they moved under Lord Hlevenom’s plan.
But in actuality, that plan was nothing more than a small part to achieving a larger objective. The greater objective was to secure the sponsor Leviathan needed if it ever wanted to operate.
For that sake, they threatened the president of a yakuza front company spreading drugs through Tsukimori City, to extort their funds and capital. Their attack on Gaimoon was additionally to buy time and prevent their true objective from coming to light
‘When the weekend comes, the president always brings girls to the same hotel. If you want to take aim, that’s the chance.’
Lord Helvenom told them, the day everyone gathered at the theater.
‘After Leviathan was lost, natives underestimated the threat of alters, advancing out to fill in the void left on the map of influence. This plan is a restraint on those avaricious humans, and a warning. To teach them our Leviathan is still active in the truest sense.’
As things stood, Lord Helvenom’s plan was proceeding smoothly to a scary extent.
After attacking the site of the girl and president who came to the hotel, and knocking them out with her ultrasonic bullets, the president was abducted by Arachne, while the girl was bound by Ecole.
At the same time, she submerged the suite in water, and prepared multiple crossbows laden with apoptonitro. The crossbows were set up beforehand to detect and go off in response to her ultrasonic waves.
With only one wall leading out, Gaimoon’s movements were restricted, and in order to aim at Gaimoon once he crashed through the wall, Lemeo remained alert with the truck. The doors to the room they’d crash into were firmly sealed in advance so the fire brigade couldn’t get close. This was to bring about the backdraft effect that would set Gaimoon ablaze.
It was all as planned. All that remained was to measure a retreat, or so it was supposed to be.
‘Why are we retreating…’
Murtle said. The bashful one of the twins wrung out her voice.
‘Just a little more, and we can avenge uncle, mama… I don’t understand why we have to pull back…! When Gaimoon is our enemy…!’
At that bitter cry, Ecole swallowed her breath.
The twins’ parents, originally executives of Leviathan, were defeated by Gaimoon ten years prior. And having lost their parents, the one who took in and raised the orphans was Freiger. When it came to hatred for Gaimoon, theirs ran deeper than any of the other members.
Murtle trembled as she spoke.
‘We got our share of apoptonitro from uncle… enough to take out Gaimoon, heaps of it… when I saw the live footage, I could tell…! We’re already in the room…! We’re going to do it…!’
Ecole hurriedly opened the tablet terminal in her hands, and connected to the SNS among her comrades.
Just in case, Lemeo’s video camera was streamed live in the chat to store as a backup.
Eventutally, the terminal’s screen projected the footage.
Within the room where the flame blazed, a collapsed shadow. A burnt-black Gaimoon.
With necrosis breaking down in his alter cells, Gaimoon had lost a large majority of his superhuman powers.
Did he still draw breath? At times his hands moved.
Standing by Gaimoon’s side, the odd-eyed cat alter Hurtle.
In her hand, she gripped a large dagger. Presumably like the crossbows Ecole prepared, the blade was slathered with an aqueous solution of apoptonitro.
The Hurtle on screen brought the transceiver to her face and spoke.
‘Just one arrow and he can’t move anymore. IF we hurt him more, he’ll lose the ability to transform, right? It’s the perfect chance, you’ve got to take what you get.’
‘I’m for it.’
Lemeo’s voice forced its way in.
‘If we don’t attack now, then when? I haven’t the slightest idea why you’d stop Hurtle or Murtle.’
‘Now, not, just calm down, young’uns. How about you just listen to Blackvenom-san here?’
As if he was amusing himself with the situation, Ikaruga wedged his way in.
‘I do think there’s some sense to the little cat lady’s words. But nothing you can do, that’s just how the world works. The soldiers have got to listen to the commander with a black scheme in his heart.’
Pretending to persuade them, Ikaruga indirectly jeered at Lord Helvenom.
But his opinion was also representative of the other members.
Sure enough, they failed to see the reason Lord Helvenom would hesitate over a fallen Gaimoon.
there should be no mistake this was a chance.
On the screen, Hurtle stood still with dagger in hand. She awaited Lord Helvenom’s answer.
Whatever the case, they couldn’t stay in that room for long. Even with the strong body boasted by an alter, if exposed to a fire for extended periods, the damage would accumulate.
With everyone awaiting an answer, Lord Helvenom concisely responded.
‘Retreat at once. This is an order.’
The next instant came Hurtles detestful answer.
She lowered her dagger at Gaimoon on the brink of death. The dagger’s tip attempted to pierce into Gaimoon’s body. Skinning the armor plating, the blade set with poison would shortly scratch Gaimoon’s skin—
‘I told you, Gaimoon is an endlessly evolving justice.’
It was hard to say Lord Helvenom’s words reached. The movement of Hurtle’s dagger stopped along the way.
‘—The greater adversity he faces, the stronger he becomes.’
Gaimoon gripped the blade in his pure white hand.
Ecole couldn’t tell what had happened.
Gaimoon’s burnt skin crumbled in tatters.
As if it had been regenerated of new cells, beautiful white skin glistened.
On the screen, Hurtle desperately tried to shove the dagger in. If the apoptonitro was effective, then soon her hand gripping the blade would crumble away.
But his body emitting a sublime glimmer, Gaimoon’s body wouldn’t collapse.
‘Well I’ll be damned, looks like he built a resistance…’
With Murtle parroting the word, Ikaruga explained.
‘Even if you’re hit with a dose of apoptonitro, it’s not like every single cell dies. It’s possible that a small portion of them with a natural resistance will remain. Right now, perhaps Gaimoon’s body has regenerated based on those few surviving alter cells? Well, in short.’
Gaimoon on the screen stood. As if he hadn’t suffered any damage from the start.
‘Apoptonitro won’t work on Gaimoon again…’
Hurtle continued her resistance.
But as if to smash it, Gaimoon put power into his grip of the dagger.
It was bent, the dagger’s blade hit the ground.
‘…… ight… t… stice.’
Gaimoon suddenly pointed his finger towards the heavens.
A discontinuous voice accompanied the move.
—When your heart is touched by sorrow, the white moonbeams shall light out justice.
‘— Here stands the natural enemy of evil, Gaimoon’
At Gaimoon’s battle cry, a fright raced through Ecole.
Hurtle on the screen slumped down as if her will to fight had broken.
Across the radio, Arachne cried out.
‘Lemeo! Hurtle! Murtle! Hurry and get out of there! Now!’
‘… I know… I get it, but…!’
Lemeo sounded panicked.
Gaimoon’s expressionless eyes gave off a fiery light. Even Ecole watching from the screen of her tablet could feel the overwhelming pressure. It was something very similar to Lord Helvenom’s Terreur.
At this rate, Lemeo and the others would be done in—
‘Ecole, can you hear me?’
The call from the radio caused her body to jerk up.
Lord Helvenom’s voice. She immediately responded.
“Yes! This is Ecole, I can hear you!”
‘I’m speaking to your transceiver alone. I’m counting on your assistance with the escape.’
Was she supposed to get to the first floor to evacuate them?
But once again, Lord Helvenom’s orders were out of left field.
‘A human on the ground, it can be anyone. If possible, knock multiple people out with your ultrasonic bullets.’
“… Eh? Knock them out?”
‘That’s right. Whatever the case, cause a ruckus. It’s to save Lemeo’s team.’
Gaimoon on the screen took on a fighting pose. He prepared for war. The situation was three on one, but in the previous battle, she had learned numbers weren’t an absolute advantage.
No time to hesitate.
Ecole peeked her face out the window. The people on the ground hadn’t noticed her yet.
Stifling the conflicted thoughts in her head, she scattered her ultrasound bullets.
Two women among the onlookers fell to the ground. Those around them raised screams. A number of them pointed in her direction, and eventually, all the people down there had noticed Ecole’s existence.
Bathed in screams and angry shouts, Ecole looked down over the people. Wrong, this was to save her comrades. She was just knocking them out, she wasn’t doing any harm.
Her thoughts desperately racing, Ecole got around to seeing her own actions as something terrible.
The hotel building shook as someone broke through the wall.
It was Gaimoon.
The shield on his arm spread wide, he blocked an ultrasonic bullet.
The peoples’ cries took a complete turn to cheers.
Ecole stared over the sight in a daze.
‘—All members, evacuate at once.’
Replying to Lord Helvenom’s orders, Ecole tried to turn around. There she notices.
Her eyes met with Gaimoon’s. With no visible emotion, a look of justice shined at her, as if to condemn her for her sins.
Ecole immediately pulled her head in. Now that Gaimoon’s attention was diverted, Leo’s team could pull out without issue.
The plan was complete. Without a moment to lose, Ecole escaped from the spot.
Ten minutes after Ecole withdrew from the scene of the fire.
They finally established contact with Lemeo.
‘This is Lemeo. All units successfully withdrawn… now returning to base…’
“… Understood. Be wary of pursuit.”
After cutting the transmission, Lord Helvenom gazed at the contract.
The contract with the president’s signature and blood seal pressed in. For their name, they apportioned the name of a dummy corporation the ex-Leviathan once used.
With that, even legally, the president couldn’t escape Leviathan’s malign hand.
His freedom lost, even after the restraints were undone, the present remained dazed out like an empty husk.
“For now I guess we can say the first mission was a success.”
Ikaruga stated with a grin. Lord Helvenom faintly shook his head.
“It’s still all to come. This is nothing more than a beginning.”
To become the Alchemuls of Tsukimori, he would first have to eliminate the parasites building a nest in the city.
The evil Gaimoon needed to defeat was Leviathan, Lord Helvenom alone.
By no means could it ever become anyone else.
For Gaimoon, Omou Mia’s own sake too.
The man injected by Arachne fell into a lethargy. While they prepared the president for transport to deliver him home, Ikaruga quietly whispered into Lord Helvenom’s ear.
“Still, Blackvenom-san, I see you’re quite knowledgeable about Gaomoon.”
Lord Helvenom’s movements stopped.
The black eyes of a squid concealing Ikaruga’s face gazed at him ready for action.
“What are you trying to say?”
A fearsome pressure let off by Lord Helvenom. Separated from them, Arachne’s body winced, but Ikaruga simply shrugged his shoulders.
“I’d love to see it someday. Just what sort of face you’re making under the mask.”
Lord Helvenom ignored his transparent provocation.
He thought back to the memory of back then.
A building enveloped in flames, the great many husks collapsing, confronting the red Gaimoon.
The memory of sin sleeping in Takeru’s depths.
These hands had been sullied in evil and blood long ago.
And still, it wasn’t enough.
To reach Alchemuls, even more blood was needed—
Based on witness reports of the crime scene, the fire at the hotel was investigated as an arson perpetrated by alters. Around the same time, the burnt form of what was presumably Gaimoon dit a round around the internet, causing a bit of a ruckus. ‘Hero of Justice, Finally defeated!?’ With such sensational hit pieces diffusing, rumors unrelated to either truth or lie begin to circulate.
They say the truth is, Leviathan still lives on.
They say the truth is, they were pulling all the strings behind the arson in Tsukimori.
Rumor called upon rumor, secretly propagating through town. While the rumor was gaining legs of its own, in a news follow-up report on the fire there was a small column on the identity of Midorikawa saved by Gaimoon.
Of course, there was no one out there who would find meaning in that insignificant fact.